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I've added another of my favorite films from Sundance, The Guest, to this delightful series of Q&As that'll give you a peek into the process of how these great works are pieced together as well as what you can expect when these films eventually hit theaters. If you appreciated Adam Wingard's early work (You're Next, V/H/S) be sure to slot The Guest high on your anticipated movies list, as it's easily his best yet and a snarky splatterfest thrill ride from start to finish. Listen to Wingard and his cast, including Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, talk about writing the piece, inspiration from 80's movies and getting pierced by exploding shrapnel.
Read more: Adam Wingard and Cast Talk "The...
In this final installment of talks around 2014's Sundance, we touch base with the creative brains and cinematic brawn behind Young Ones (full review here) - a dystopian future Western that pits mechs and humans against draughts and standoffs. A bit like slamming The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in the midst of Tatooine, Jake Paltrow's sophomoric effort is a fascinating and engaging experiment in genre that worked wonders for me. Joining him, stars Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Elle Fanning helped guide us through why they came to the movie, what it was like working under the heat of a South African sun and the use of modern day robotics in Young Ones.
Q: Talk about what inspired the film and what were some of the stylistic influences?
Jake Paltrow: There were two particular news articles. One was about moving the capital of Yemen due to a lack of water, in the next ten years. And another one was about the driest town in the world in Chile. There’s a story about all these people who stayed behind because of these odd personal reasons and needing water to be pumped in. And I’ve always been interested in robotics and I spent time in 2008 with Big Dog at Boston Dynamics. Anyway, I was very interested in trying to do a story with a robotic character that would work and explore its sentience, it had some sort of soul, or it would be a character, a character that would have some sort of sense itself. And those two things came together and it went from there.
Q: Talk about how you sort of fused some of the stylistic elements, the science fiction with the Western bounds?
JP: That sort of just happened. I don’t know if that was such a premeditated thing, it just came together. Giles, who photographed the movie, and I really didn’t look at very few things we talked about. We talked about Silent Night, the only one we ever talked about, the way it was lensed I think. We loved that movie, it looked so great. But we were always trying to do our thing beyond that.
Q: How did you select the instruments, the electronics vs. the harmonica?
Nathan Johnson: A lot of that was working with Jake, we would sit down and we talk out ideas, stylistic references. And we pulled out music boxes and harmoniums, and we were talking a lot about wind actually, and the idea of wind instruments and what it sounds like when wind blows over something, and just that point where it turns into a tone. So we thought that was kind of interesting. The idea of combining traditional orchestral instruments with these wind instruments and also these synthetic elements just piqued our interest and felt maybe part of the world this place was in.
Q: What did it feel like to live through this movie, the people who worked in it.
Michael Shannon: Well, it’s really disturbing to think about what might be heading our way. But at the same time, we are making a movie. Now, in NYC we’re much more afraid of water than not having water. So it’s all relative.
Q: Can you guys talk about what first attracted you to the role?
Elle Fanning: Well, I read the script a really long time ago. I was twelve when I first read it. And I met Jake for the first time and we went out to lunch. And I thought I was something that I’d never read before, and right when I read it, I thought ‘Oh my God, I have to do this’. I knew that for my character specifically, I’m really into details and all the little things and quirks of Mary or any character I do, and I knew with her I could put a lot of those in there. And after talking to Jake, he was so open to those. We spent so long on that hot pink nail polish color. We were picking it out, the right shade, “That’s too salmon, that’s too hot”, that was a big deal. And I love that, I like picking out the details, and I just love Jake and the movie so much. So that’s kind of, the nail polish drew me to it.
Kodi Smit-McPhee: I was also kind of really attracted by the nail polish. No, I was also with the project for a long time, it went through a lot but then it got through again. And I was in LA, just Skyping Jake, reading the script again, did my tape, sent it off, and next thing I was in South Africa melting.
Nicholas Hoult: The script was the most original thing I’d read for ages but also that Flem role was the most interesting, with all the dynamics he had with each other character from the film, and I was fascinated by him, it was really well written. That’s the reason I wanted to do each scene. And I had the same experience that Elle had with nail polish, but I had a fake tan. So I got to wear a lot of that.
MS: It’s kind of like what we were talking about earlier. It was relevant and it was a story that needed to be told. I don’t think a movie’s gonna fix a problem but beyond just reading something from a newspaper, if you put it in a movie, it may have more of an emotional resonance, it may inspire someone to do something. It did occur to me when I read it that that might be one result, yes.
Q: Why did you choose to use chapters versus acts? JP: We talked about that a lot, we talked about approach, acts or chapters. The third thing that really inspired the movie, besides those articles and interests in robotics, were the SE Hinton books that I revisited. I reread those books when I was writing, I hadn’t read them in such a long time and I loved them so much and I loved them again as a kid. And I loved the way a science fiction book version of those books could feel like. So I was really leaning towards that. And those books were always sort of short and I thought how could I make this movie feel like one of those short books. And so the chapters thing, I thought it was a way to keep the entertainment relevant, that you would know that you were moving into the next thing. You close this story, move into Flem’s chapter, you could get more energy back as an audience. I think to try and entertain, certainly the chapters had to do with books, but we do play with parts and acts at other points to. And the important thing at the end, in a way it is to sort of, the movie, even though the performance is sort of naturalistic, has this sort of storybook element to it, and I liked the idea of sort of ending it. I mean, I look at the movie and I feel like it’s a tragedy, and I like revisiting these characters and seeing them all as a little bit removed from the movie.
Q: The science fiction elements felt really organic when they came into the story. I thought it was a really bold choice to create classic western meets futuristic science fiction and I wonder were there things about it that you were worried wouldn’t work?
JP: Everything. The way we did the simulation, we had two puppeteers and that was one of those things, the movie, I’d prepped once before and it didn’t happen, and so we got down to South Africa we started doing it this way, but we never had a complete proof that this would work. We’d done it once before, in Spain, and it seemed like it would work perfect, so we kept moving that way. But we hadn’t really tested it, doing a whole movie, so we just kept going, thinking it would work. But sometimes it felt like every single thing just wouldn’t work. It was 115 degrees the first few days of shooting, it felt impossible to get through the day, literally just taking it one step at a time. We felt like we’d never get through the shots. Sequences like that were very worked out, so we knew we had to get that amount of shots to make the scene work, so we somehow adjust. I really credit Mike. But truly we felt like we couldn’t even finish it. It was a very difficult movie to make and we were so far away. I’d never been in a situation where you couldn’t shoot because the lights would go. And then the lights would go, and you’d be standing there saying ‘Well that’s it’. And they’d go and drive seven hours to Cape Town to get new lights and come through the next day. We didn’t have a schedule where we could get things picked up, certain people get dropped along the way. Thinking, what do we have, what do we have? Trying to fit everything together, and somehow we got lucky, or at least seemed to.
Q: What was the idea behind the plane in the film.
JP: That was just the idea that there was a world going on around the movie, this sort of supersonic passenger jet is back, the new Concord is back and they’re flying from LA to New York in 45 minutes or whatever it is, and there’s this whole world where in fact, you know our world has this sort of regressive nature to it, and the rest of the world is great. You know, a world where Google Glass, or the next, all those sort of things are happening, all those utopian urban things, people migrating from urban areas from rural areas, all that is going on, just not where these people live. So that was the idea, that there’s a big world out there.
Q: From a production standpoint, the robot you used, was that on loan from the military?
JP: No, it’s totally fake. The torso is made of fiberglass tubing.
Q: Did you try and get the actual robot?
JP: Oh yes, I tried. They were great, but there was no way to do it. They’re developing. Now they’re on to Cheetah, and all these things. I mean it was a fascinating experience to spend time with them to do this test, but in the end they’re not a movie tool. They have much bigger fish to fry.
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The biggest surprise out of Sundance came in the form of a German sexplotation film so aptly named Wetlands. It's a film that surged with raunch, comedy and genuine drama that had me wincing, bursting out laughing and deeply feeling for all at once. Simply put, it's a stunner. So all the better that director David Wnendt came out and had a chance to briefly speak with us about his divisively awesome film. Talking about how he skirted around censorship, being a man making a feminist film, German cinema and Quentin Tarantino, Wnendt goes into up the skirt on the making of Wetlands.
Read more: David Wnendt Talks Stunning...
Even if you won't be able to see Richard Linklater’s stunning Boyhood for another five months or so, the epicly elongated process that went into making this film is undeniably amazing and certainly worth a read. Shot over 12 years as a young boy grows from age six to eighteen, Linklater’s ambitious project is truly one of a kind and the product reflects his thoughtful dedication. Alongside his cast, including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, daughter Lorlei Linklater and debut star Ellar Salmon at his side, Linklater took to the stage at Sundance's Eccles Theater to answer a host of questions after the world premiere of his sensational film.
Richard Linklater: We couldn’t imagine any place else to show this film to its first audience so it’s really special for us. We started this film 4,208 days ago. So thanks for coming along with us. I’m just so proud of these guys! We’re here to answer any questions you might have.
Q: Was it all your idea and script Richard, or do you collaborate with what’s going on in their lives?
RL: Very collaborative. It’s kind of outlined. But every year we would work out the scenes. The great thing of having that gestation period, roughly a year between shoots, so I could think about it, you know, fourth grade, fifrth grade, and then we would get together and just work on it, sometimes really quickly. It was very intense, like three or four day shoots every time, about a year in between to think about it. That’s the way I always work. At some point, the ideas merge, as the kids got older, at some point Ellar was writing with me much of it.
Q: How did you approach casting?
RL: Casting. Well, you know that’s the key. That was the lucky thing. I mean, I talked to Ethan first. We’d worked together and we’re friends, we run ideas by each other. So he jumped in. Do you guys wanna talk about how you came aboard?
Ethan Hawke: It all started with me. (Laughter) No, sometimes I think that Rick either has a lucky star or sold his soul to the Devil, because this movie couldn’t have worked without Lorelei and Ellar. And you couldn’t really know that they would be able to contribute the way they did. Except for the fact, for your writing question, one of the ways that Rick likes to write a movie is to invite his performers to be a part of the filmmaking process with him. It’s very clear the way he wants to make it and he lets it be incredibly open to us. So Lorelai, what’s going on in her life could inform what is happening in Samantha’s life and vice versa. For all of us, a lot of it was talking about it for us, what it was like in fourth grade, but now a lot of us are parents of fourth graders or have been. So we could benefit from having both points of view. I mean, Lorelai signed up for something...what age were you when you agreed to do it?
Lorelei Linklater: Eight.
EH: Eight. He held you to that promise for twelve years? What was the year you decided you no longer wanted to be involved in it?
LL: Maybe around the fourth year. I asked my Dad (director Richard Linklater) if my character could die. (Laughter) He said it would be too dramatic.
Patricia Arquette: Another thing that Rick did during the process, in regard to the writing thing, sometimes I think Ellar would be a little more advanced than Mason would be, because Ellar’s parents are really cool experimental artists and musicians, incredible people. Rick would say, “So here’s where Ellar’s at, but Mason’s a couple of years behind, so we’ve got to cut his hair, make him look not so cool.” So we had to uncool Ellar. Yeah, the coolest seventh grader on Earth happened to be working on our movie. But when Rick called, we met at Ethan’s hotel at a little party for ten minutes–
EH: In 1994.
PA: So he called me and said, “What are you going to be doing for the next twelve years?” I don’t know, hustling, trying to get a job, unemployed, what I’m doing now. “Ok, wanna do this movie?” Absolutely, coolest opportunity on Earth.
Q: Ellar, do you remember being cast?
Ellar Salmon: Very vaguely, I remember being a variable in an audition process. And, I remember having a distinct feeling that a large part of why I was cast was because of how cool my parents are. He knew he wouldn’t have to deal with those kind of parents. But I don’t remember it. It goes in and out. There are things early on that I watch and remember really clearly and then there are other things that I just have absolutely no memory of.
EH: It was fascinating to see Ellar develop as an actor. Because when he was a little boy, it was like playing with a kid and trying to capture moments. And when I came in, I would miss two years at a time sometimes. We had a camping trip scene, and that was the first time you had agency in the writing, bring in where he thought the character would be. You really wanted to talk about this Star Wars thing and talk about girls. So watching you learn how to act and how to collaborate as a filmmaker as a participant in this film. You learned how to improvise and how to be in character. And that just started growing. And the process of making it felt differently because Ellar was becoming a young man.
Q: With a three hour film, I’m curious if there was something that was a little difficult to cut that the audience would be interested in hearing about?
RL: All of my scenes. There was quite a bit on the floor. Q: What was your favorite scene that you cut?
RL: Well it would be in the movie if it was my favorite. It was an interesting editing process. You got to spend all those years. Two months ago I trimmed something from Year 2. I had ten years to think about what I wasn’t totally happy about. Everything about this movie was odd. But there’s nothing. The movie’s long but it had to be. I never made a movie over two hours but this one had to be for a reason.
Q: As far as it how it was shot, seamlessly, it looks so beautiful and has incredible the production value but I was just curious about the technology involved. Did you keep using the same camera or was it changed in post?
RL: That’s a good question about technology. That was a big issue upfront. So we shot it on 35mm, negative, I wanted it to look the same way. I knew it’d look a lot different if we jumped into the digital, hi-def formats. So I don’t know how many 35mm films are at Sundance this year, but we’re one of them. Can I give a big shout out? There’s a hero in this film. It’s the crazy guy who took a leap of faith. Obviously, this whole thing, we all took leaps of faith. It was a lot of belief in the future to commit for something for so long. But it’s the strangest proposition to ask someone to help finance something for twelve years, in our industry. So I want to really thank Johnathan Sirak, at IFC. He doesn’t make a lot of films, and as years went on, I’d run into him and he’d say “Well, we have one film in production.” (Laughs) Every year, I just had a board meeting. Everyone asks what the hell this is on the books. He had to lie, every year. But we have to thank him so much for his support.
Q: You guys wanna let me know about any other films?
EH: You’re gonna be in the next episode. This is part of the movie now.
RL: We started a reality show actually. (laughs)
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